The Fairmont Banff Springs is an internationally recognized symbol of Canadian hospitality. William Cornelius Van Horne, appointed general manager of Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) has been credited with recognizing the tourism potential of the Canadian west. Van Horne maintained tourism was an intricate ingredient in getting people to ride CPR and was conscious of the financial possibilities attached to the western mountain scenery. His philosophy reflected this awareness, 'Since we can't export the scenery,' he said, ' we'll have to import the tourists.' To enhance traffic on the CPR, Van Horne envisioned a succession of lavish resort hotels along the railway line through the Rocky and Selkirk Mountains.
In 1886, CPR began developing three hotels to reflect Van Horne's idea of luxurious accommodations. The Mount Stephen House at Field, the Fraser Canyon Hotel at the North Bend and the Glacier House at Rogers Pass, all located in beautiful British Colombia, were created to imitate Swiss chalets and quickly grew in popularity. However, these projects were merely the beginning of Van Horne's vision and during the construction of the three modest hotels, Van Horne commissioned blueprints for a impressive hotel to be built at the convergence of the Bow and Spray Rivers in the recently established Rocky Mountain Park.
Van Horne hired Bruce Price of New York, one of the leading architects of the time. Price's buildings displayed important characteristics of Late Victorian architecture and the visually clean, striking and exciting style became so significant throughout the early 1900's that it became the focal point of Canadian architecture until the beginning of the second world war. His work was so influential that the château style was the only acceptable architectural method for government structures at the time. With Price heading the project, construction of the Banff Springs Hotel began in the spring of 1887 and the hotel publicly opened on June 1, 1888.
By the start of the twentieth century, the Banff Springs Hotel had developed into one of the top three mountain getaways in North America and Van Horne's vision had been realized, the scenery had been undeniably capitalized. To help adapt to the rise of international clientele, the CPR began a program of enhancement and expansion that ran from 1900 to 1928, the year the current hotel was finished. The program was divided into two periods: 1900 to 1910, saw all adjustments to the hotel pertaining to the original structure, and 1910 to 1928 where all changes were aimed at the completion of a 'new' hotel. Disaster struck in 1926 when the original wooden hotel burnt down, and was rebuilt larger and in its present appearance commencing in 1928. Within the 28-year period, the hotel rarely saw a year without some form of addition or improvement.
Throughout the 1920's and 30's the hotel was able to combine day-to-day hotel life with the concept of luxurious hotel living. The depression played a part in the 'golden era' as an unsure future forced people to examine the present and their reasoning lead them to live as fully as possible in an immediate sense. The hotel managed well in maintaining its ambiance of sophisticated respectability. It was a time of stylish attire, tasteful entertainment, and refined relations. The 1930's were also a high time for promotion and the hotel saw a growth in members of high society, including heads of states and actors visiting the hotel for photo opportunities in order to promote the persona or place needing exposure. The likes of Helen Keller, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the hotel and Benny Goodman was influential in Banff obtaining a landing strip, as he wanted to stay at the hotel but could only do so if there was an area to land his plane. Stanley Thompson, a world recognized golf course designer was selected to construct the world's greatest mountain golf course.
By 1940 the effect of World War II had reached the hotel. War meant monetary and travel restrictions of North American vacationers and European investment was completely lost. By 1942, the hotel had closed its doors and with it the greatest era in the hotel's rich history. It wasn't until 1945 when the hotel re-opened.
Through the 1950's and 60's the hotel struggled to reclaim the success it had before the war. The hotel went through a significant change, adapting to the economics of the time and catering to clientele involved in train tours. The Second World War and the consequent economic boom resulted in Canadians having more financial freedom. Transportation, convenience and availability to monetary funds jointly changed the whole perspective of the hotel. While still attracting traditional guests from the past, the Banff Springs Hotel found a high percentage of its revenue resulted from short-stay tour-scheduled guests. By the mid-60's, the hotel was predominantly providing service to conferences, bus excursions and families with automobiles.
By the 1970's the hotel had reached a pivotal point, for the first time the Banff Springs Hotel would remain open for the winter season and the hotel would move away from its seasonal past to becoming a resort destination open all year. Targeted marketing campaigns were thrust into foreign markets, especially Japan. The hotel changed itself in order to increase its volume market, focusing more on tours as opposed to independent guests.
The 1980's brought expansion and renovation back to the hotel. Growing well over 800 rooms, the hotel entered a phase of renovation and renewal. Beginning in 1985, the hotel entered into a two-phased project that would see onsite staff housing completed in 1986 and newly structured Manor wing incorporating 245 new guest rooms, which was finished in 1987. The developed Manor wing was opened to help accommodate the expected overflow of visitors to the region stemming from the 1988 Winter Olympics hosted by Calgary. At the same time, the hotel added nine extra playing holes to its internationally renowned Stanley Thompson golf course.
The 1990's welcomed the addition of Ted Kissane, who arrived with a new vision of luxury for the 'Castle in the Rockies.' The year 1991 saw the hotel once again show its adaptability by opening The Banff Springs Conference Center. The state of the art center was completed at a cost of 25 million dollars and provided the hotel with an additional avenue of revenue. The following year, The Banff Springs Hotel was declared a national historic site by the government of Canada. In 1995, the hotel opens the 12-million dollar, state-of-the art luxury 'Solace' spa. 1997 saw the hotel modernize once again, renovating and converting the Manor Wing, scaling down the room count from 848 to 770. The same year, four and a half million dollars was spent to overhaul the golf course and in 1999, 75-million dollars in restoration and expansion of the hotel to reposition Banff Springs as one of the worlds leading hotels.
Today The Fairmont Banff Springs continues to deliver the service and excellence expected while still exhibiting the growth and adaptability that has been so common in the history of the hotel. Providing guests and visitors with an unparalleled attention to quality of service, the hotel meets the demands of sightseer and causal tourist, to business visitors and prominent members of society.